I love triathlons. I’m not sure why. Swimming is fun, biking is fun, running is okay. I don’t know that putting all three together sounds particularly fun. And yet here I am, 8 days out from Ironman Vineman. I think its the challenge, the difficulty, the “come to the end of yourself and find out what you’re truly made of.” Of course, the point isn’t really to completely spend yourself. The idea is to get through the race successfully and not need the volunteer designated to catch you at the end actually have to be your human mattress as you collapse on the ground. I’m 8 days out from Ironman Vineman (that sentence just made me want to throw up). The training hasn’t been perfect, but I’ll finish. Aside from an injury or mechanical breakdown, there’s only one thing that can keep me from the finish: fuel.

Fuel plans are important. I have a goal of a certain amount of calories, carbs, electrolytes, and fluids every hour. But to hit it, I’ll eat every 15 minutes. I have to — if I start to feel dehydrated, hungry, or dizzy, its already too late. Missing just one every-15-minute refueling won’t end a race, its recoverable. Miss an hour? It can mean disaster.

The problem is that I don’t like eating every 15 minutes. Its the same food over and over, for one, and its boring. Sometimes you’re in a really good zone and you don’t want to break your rhythm to eat or drink. Sometimes it seems like its more effort than its worth. But usually, the reason I decide to skip is because I simply don’t feel hungry or thirsty.

In leadership, we talk a lot about leading those around us. Its important, obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t show up to work. Talking about caring about our employees, accomplishing the mission of the organization, working hard to achieve goals, servant leadership, all important. Rarely though do we talk about leading ourselves. And thats a shame because the most important person you will lead is you.

This isn’t really a novel idea — if you have nothing left in you to give, you can’t give out. So if you aren’t leading yourself, you won’t be able serve and lead those around you, work hard to achieve goals, etc. You can’t give your family and friends your best. You can’t pour out from an empty glass. We all know this, and yet burnout, emptiness, seems to sneak up on us. There are a hundred things I could write about this, but here’s what I’ve got today: Sometimes we burn out because we wait to refuel until we are hungry and thirsty. If we refuel before then, we equate taking care of ourselves with indulgence or laziness — we feel guilty because we don’t really “need” it. Then when we get depleted, we desperately try to replenish our fuel stores — not realizing we’re not only trying to make up for the past but attempting to bank enough to get us through another marathon.

Don’t feel guilty for refueling every 15 minutes, even if you aren’t hungry or thirsty. Obviously there is a need for balance here, but my point is this: It is not indulgence to practice smart self leadershipIts investment. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that to wait until you’re tired to take care of yourself is hurtful to the people you lead and love (your staff, your work, your family, your friends). Spend yourself. Love others. Serve your organization. Give the world 100% of you. Just remember that to do so, y0u have to have 100% to give. 

The only way I can give 100% of myself to someone is to make sure that I’m always full and fueled up. And sometimes that means they get 0% from me even when I’m feeling really good with a solid 80% I could give. And it makes me feel so guilty for “indulging” (aka investing) in myself, that I often give in and keep on running on that 80% rather than refuel when I don’t feel like I really need it. But if I can’t refuel, that 80% drops to 70%, then 60%, and then 50%… skip one 15 minutes refuel: recoverable. I can lead and love fully at 80%. Skip too many refuels: I’m on the side of the road completely burnt out. And if burning out and quitting is the most hurtful thing I could do – don’t I owe it to those in my life to make sure I do everything I can to not even stick one little toe over the line?

I don’t know what refueling looks like for you. For me, its limiting the number of meetings I have per day, taking time to journal, prioritizing time with friends, taking way too much time watercoloring scripture verses every day. Could I accomplish more every day if I didn’t do those things? Of course. But if I eat when I’m not hungry and drink when I’m not  thirsty, when I switch my thinking from indulgence to investment — it means I can give people what they really want and stay the course for a very long time. And I refuse to feel guilty for wanting that!


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